How to motivate your employees to learn

Last week I started a series of articles dedicated to corporate trainings. The first article got the ball rolling by asking the question: “Why?” Today we will continue with another important question: “How to motivate your employees to learn?”

Have you heard the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink?” Unlike the premise of the proverb, which suggests the philosophical acceptance of the concept of one’s choice, in contemporary corporate culture it has become a thing of paramount importance to find a way, at all costs, to make that horse drink from the water! So, if you are part of the senior management of a company, how would you motivate your people to take a specific course aimed to improve their qualifications, increase their productivity, and, subsequently, to positively affect the company’s revenue?

Where we stand?

If you work in a call center, you are literally fed up with clients calling you with all sorts of weird and sometimes not-so-bright questions and enquiries. If you work, for example, in the automotive industry, in a factory, and you carry heavy stuff for 8 hours a day, you probably quite often “have had enough of all that.” If your job involves straining your eyes too much or remaining in an uncomfortable body position for too long, you are probably not the happiest camper every Monday morning. In general, if you perceive your job as some sort of punishment or if it is utterly boring, you will probably celebrate every opportunity to stay away from it. This also means that you are already extra motivated to go to virtually any additional training (even if it means that afterwards you will potentially have difficulties reaching your targets) just so that you can spend any amount of time away from your job.

If you do not belong to any of the above groups, then you are probably (relatively) satisfied with what you do and with what you are paid for your efforts. Although it is for the wrong reasons, the people in the previous paragraph still have some motivation to take additional courses that are organized for them by their employers. However, if you like your job, the chances that you will feel a sudden urge to study at 35 are rather slim – admit it. You will need an external impulse to get you to do it. But what? The proverbial carrot? The proverbial stick? Something else? That’s where another proverbial dog lies buried. It probably also did not want to drink the water.

Back to Why?

What would be the “stick” and “the carrot” in this particular case? Well, you can always inform your employees that you have paid for their training and if they do not attend, there will be a fine associated with such a boycott. Even if this works, do you think it will create the proper motivation in your employees? Do you think that they will actually learn something if they are forced to take a course? Alternatively, if I am satisfied with the status quo at work and you, as my direct supervisor, tell me that you would like to help me improve whatever skills you think need improvement, would I care? Not really. The employer may even try to convince the employees that the training in question will eventually lead to better performance and KPIs. Any kind of change is related to leaving our comfort zone and this is not among our favorite activities as human beings. Usually, if we cannot see the direct benefit of doing something, the chances that we will pass on it are pretty high. It’s just how people are generally wired.

Our actions as the end result of a decision making process are related to our behavioral patterns, which were developed over many years or deeply ingrained into us since childhood. These patterns are directly related to our perception of abstract, as well as concrete concepts, i.e., to our thinking. What we think, in turn, is a result of our beliefs. To understand the motivation behind the actions of an individual, we need to go all the way back to their beliefs. What is the shortest way to get there? The most powerful and the least used technique is to ask Why? Managers usually do not bother to find the answers; instead, they prefer to resort to orders. And they keep getting the same results.

Why is it so important to know what drives your employees in their daily work routine? It is important because if you find the answers, you won’t have to push them anymore. You will only have to use their “trigger” to achieve the desired result. Can this happen for a larger group of people when the training is scheduled for next week? Doubtful. It is a process though, and if you start it and stick to it and your managers know their teams, as in really know what their “triggers” are, in the end you will have much more than just their consent to attend trainings. They will gladly do it and it will positively impact the entire company.

Who can achieve such miraculous results? True team leaders and managers can. What are their qualities? We will find out in the next article…


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Andrey Basat is a corporate trainings enthusiast with over 8 years of SaaS sales and support. Graduated in Krakow, Poland at the Jagiellonian University, MA in Teacher's specialisation. Member of the wine and books discussion club "The Magnificent 8", crypto currencies enthusiast and passionate advocate for new corporate culture.
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